We talked to Steven Tucker of the Payroll Site about innovation and, he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Steven Tucker: I caught COVID in March and, thankfully, had a fairly mild case. Living on my own and then having to work from home, I found the isolation very difficult at first, but things have improved, and I’ve seen many friendly faces, now that the law allows. Everyone has had a very different experience.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded The Payroll Site.
Steven Tucker: I worked as a software developer since leaving university, or earlier if you count a computer game that I had published when I was at school. I did a lot of contract work, which was great for variety and for building up new skills.
In late 2003, I was in a contract I wasn’t particularly enjoying, and I started thinking about other things. Over the Christmas period, I had some time for reflection, and on New Year’s Day, I emailed my brother, saying I was thinking of starting a business. To my surprise, he emailed back and said he had been thinking the same thing and we could do something together.
We then spent a few weeks deciding what the business was going to be, which was a fun process. We had about 60 ideas, many of which have since been made into successful businesses by companies who thought them up independently. We whittled the list down to the ideas we thought we were likely to be able to make a success with our skillset and resources. The result was The Payroll Site. We started developing our cloud payroll system in March 2004 and, the following month, we launched the minimum viable product, and our first customers started signing up.
How does The Payroll Site innovate?
Steven Tucker: We are always trying to find the best way to solve a problem, rather than just doing the easiest thing or copying what other people do. I’d used other payroll options from the outset, and I was convinced of what I’d want if I was our customer: It should be a cloud system, and it must have excellent telephone support. Innovation comes from the determination to do what’s best, not what’s easy or conventional.
It is also important to note that problem-solving is a process that can be learnt. There are different ways to do it, many of which start by separating the steps of defining the problem, generating ideas, and picking the idea that best solves the problem. If I ever find myself staring into space and thinking about a problem, I follow those three steps, making sure I draw a line under one step before I move on to the next. I use lots of other techniques too, but that one is often sufficient.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Steven Tucker: The main change is that we are all working from home, and this has presented some challenges, particularly where communication is concerned. We’ve still managed to provide an excellent service, including telephone support, throughout. We have lost a few customers, but fortunately, not many. This is partly because customers who have furloughed their staff still need a payroll system. New customers have been joining throughout, so we’ve not been significantly affected from a financial point of view.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Steven Tucker: We decided to give up our office, which was difficult. I spent a lot of effort making it COVID-secure and preparing to go back, but, in the end, there was a problem with the ventilation that I just couldn’t solve, so we cancelled our license agreement. The next time I look for an office, I’ll ask a few more detailed questions about the ventilation system.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Steven Tucker: My friends are great for helping me relax and put things into perspective, preferably over a drink. In normal times, I find escape in live entertainment, including bands and stand-up comedy. I’m looking forward to a time when live entertainment can safely resume.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Steven Tucker: We compete with all the big accounting software firms, as they also sell payroll software. Weirdly, we are also partners with them all because our payroll system integrates with their bookkeeping systems. The main ones are Xero, Intuit QuickBooks, Sage, IRIS KashFlow, and FreeAgent.
Because these big firms don’t want to integrate with each other’s systems, our independence gives us an advantage here. We’re the cloud payroll system that works with them all. That, coupled with our excellent software and support, gives customers a good reason to choose The Payroll Site. And we keep them happy, too – they’ve just voted us Payroll Software of the Year for the fifth time in the AccountingWEB Accounting Excellence Awards.
Your final thoughts?
Steven Tucker: A lot of changes were forced on businesses this year. I’m expecting them to have more choice in the future about how they want to operate: some will return to workplaces, some will keep all employees working from home, and some will adopt a different approach. Whatever change is coming next, flexible IT systems using cloud technologies will ease the path.